Some might argue that annual reports are dead, but I say that they are simply undergoing a transformation, much like the rest of the publications that nonprofits use for advocacy, education, and fundraising. All print publications, including annual reports, are being reevaluated as online and multimedia tools become much more affordable and easy to use, and rightly so.
I’ll be talking about how annual reports are evolving this Friday morning at the annual conference of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits. One shift I’ll mention is the use of video to tell the story of your past year.
Only a handful of nonprofits are producing video annual reports right now, so to get some solid guidance, I recently interviewed Timothy Carey, Senior Vice President for Digital Media, with ICR, Inc. ICR pioneered the video annual report format for publicly-traded corporations and helped petition the SEC to allow the format. ICR has produced video annual reports for companies like McCormick & Schmick’s and Kenneth Cole Productions.
While not all lessons from the corporate world translate well into the nonprofit sector, Tim’s advice on video annual reports definitely does.
Kivi: Explain why video works better than print for annual reports.
Tim: Video is a more compelling way to tell a story, because it connects more emotionally. We all get so much in the mail now, so the value of print is diminished. Since we are overloaded with it, statistics show that people are more willing to watch a short video than to read a long document. We’ve tracked it and we know that 4-5 minutes of video is the sweet spot. That’s where we see people dropping off in longer videos.
Kivi: The nonprofit bottom line is about much more than financial success. What should nonprofits focus on in their video annual reports?
Tim: Nonprofits should really hone in on what they are trying to accomplish, what they are trying to do, what makes them special. The message will be different for each nonprofit. You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach. Nonprofits are all chasing fewer dollars, so the emotional connection that you can make with video can really help. You can also weave in simple graphical treatments of how nonprofits are spending their money, weaving in the financial reporting that you find in all annual reports.
Kivi: Let’s talk about production – how do you go about creating a video annual report?
Tim: We shoot all the videos we do documentary style — the pace is pretty quick, but it still allows viewers to connect. It’s an effective style that really works right now. We typically don’t do formal interviews with people on a blue screen. Instead we shoot a conversation that might take six minutes and then we edit it down to one minute that we actually use. While it’s documentary style, we don’t shove the microphone in people’s faces. It’s a more relaxed, natural conversation. Many companies do have existing video, and we sort through what’s usable and what’s not. That helps us determine what and where we need to shoot. We try to shoot all in one day.
Kivi: Who should be in the video?
Tim: You have to leverage the emotional connection. If a nonprofit is helping people, then show on video how those people were helped. You can do vignettes or interviews. Ask employees why they work there to get at some of those emotional connections. In some organizations, the president or CEO [or executive director] may not be the best person on film, especially if they are not particularly comfortable being interviewed or filmed. It’s often better to have someone else tell the story. Or if you do need to use that person, film in documentary style where you ask the person to talk about the past year. You film longer than you’ll need to get the person talking and then weave the good parts into your story later. You can prep people with questions ahead of time and in some cases, we may rehearse. You only need a couple of great highlights out of several minutes of filming.
Kivi: What other words of wisdom do you have for nonprofits considering video annual reports?
Tim: Beware of too many chefs in the kitchen. The video will be too long, and not as focused as it needs to be. Individuals will be more connected to their specific projects and will lose the bigger picture. You’ll end up with too many minutes on less critical elements. That’s the piece we provide – we help clients be decisive about the storyline, the draft of who should say what, and managing the production process. When you are too close to it, you can’t see the big picture sometimes.
Thanks, Tim, for sharing these great tips! I’ll be writing more about alternatives to print annual reports in the coming weeks and months. Do you have an example you’d like to share or a question? Leave a comment below.
Still planning on doing a printed annual report this year? Check out my on-demand e-course, How to Write a Nonprofit Annual Report. Get that and lots, lots more when you subscribe to the Nonprofit Marketing Guide All-Access Pass.